• U.S.

Animals: Pure Filet Mignon

4 minute read

Thirty-eight years ago a shy young Creston, Ill. farmer named Stanley R. Pierce took his 1,43O-lb. Aberdeen-Angus steer, Advance, 72 miles to Chicago, to the first International Live Stock Exposition. Advance won the title of Grand Champion Steer. As this year’s gaily bedecked, heavily disinfected show opened last week in the brick-&-cement International Amphitheatre at Chicago’s Union Stock Yards, Farmer Pierce was again on hand. Watching his best beef cattle collect only three prizes (a 4th, a 5th, a 13th), he mused sadly that Advance had won in “an easy walkaway” against heavier, higher, bigger and older animals. Then he waited, with the other cattle-conscious spectators squeezed into the Amphitheatre, for a decision on the championship his steer once held.

The Grand Championship prize for best of baby beeves went to an Aberdeen-Angus. It was called Mercer, was 22 months old, and was owned by Irene Brown, 14, who had bought it last January for $60. Then, on the Exposition’s fourth day, British Judge William John Cumber stepped into the arena to judge the show’s Grand Champion steer. In the ring were the four finalists—a Hereford and three Aberdeen-Angus, including Mercer, champions of their respective weight classes. Judge Cumber passed his sensitive hands over well-meated sides, carefully examined shoulders and rumps, circled again & again. At last he pointed to Irene Brown’s Angus.

Irene Brown was the first girl to own or exhibit a Grand Champion steer, and Judge Cumber called it a wonderful achievement.” Said Irene: “I have just one thing to say to the girls … we can do anything on the farm or in the city that the men can.” When her steer, which won about $900 in prize money, was prodded out of the Amphitheatre’s doors two days later, it was auctioned off at $3,785—$3.35 for every one of its 1,130 lb., the highest price fetched since 1929. Shortly Mercer will go, as all steers must, to the slaughterhouse.

Most significant news of last week’s Exposition, however, was not Mercer or the price paid for him, but the fact that he was the 23rd Aberdeen-Angus to win the single steer Grand Championship. Most upstart of all U. S. cattle breeds, purebred Angus were first imported from Scotland in 1878 by the Lake Forest, Ill. cattle firm of Anderson & Findlay. Only a few years before, a white-haired Scottish landowner named William McCombie had developed the short-necked, squat, hornless, soot-black creatures. In Lake Forest, Anderson & Findlay’s big Angus bull had soon serviced five Angus cows, and before long other breeders, in Kansas and in Iowa, were adding Aberdeen-Angus to their herds. The blacks began taking prizes, first at local shows, then at the Chicago Fat Show, then at the first International. In latter-day Internationals, when yearlings began to carry off top honors, the Angus, a fast fattener, was again & again the favorite.

Last week’s show proved that the breed, by now almost pure filet mignon, is still improving. This year’s Mercer and 1900’s Advance were both Aberdeen-Angus. But Mercer, only 22 months old to Advance’s 26, was shorter-legged, closer to the ground, more nearly a perfect elongated cube, typified the ideal animal that breeders, packers and consumers have been dreaming toward. Weighing 300 Ib.less than Advance, Mercer was a far more economical animal, because he provided cuts to fit the shrinking U. S. oven yet allowed no wastage, achieved maturity in materially less time, could be turned into cash before he ate up his future profits. His broad, deep body, straight back and thick coverings of high-priced meat were the answer to a breeder’s prayer.

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